Making visible politically masked risks: The haze case of bottom-up data visualization

Anna Berti Suman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review

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This contribution discusses the potential and challenges of maps’ data visualization as a practice suitable to enhance social and legal accountability in the governance of environmental hazards affecting public health. The focus is on the ‘Global South’ and, specifically, on the haze pollution that Southeast Asia is experiencing due to illegal forest fires. The haze is discussed as a pressing public health concern for the region (Koplitz, S.N. et al., 2016). It is shown how efforts to tackle the haze have been hindered by a lack of reliable evidence on the fires’ exact location and on land ownership, worsened by an uncooperative attitude of governments and companies. This status-quo characterized by a lack of data, in certain instances, or by a denied access to the available data, in other cases, is the problem this contribution addresses. The chapter zooms in on creative solutions that arose from the bottom level, namely that of non-state haze mapping initiatives that ‘bypassed’ the institutional system. Desk researches on the haze impacts and on theories on the use of bottom-up produced evidence in environmental risk governance are combined with web analysis and with qualitative research based on: observations performed at Greenpeace International, and targeted communications with stakeholders and organizations on the ground. This contribution inspects the potential of such maps to ‘make visible politically masked risks’ by filling institutional gaps, to enhance social accountability by triggering social agency at the individual and collective levels, and to even promote legal accountability. Such arguments are supported by NGOs’ reports (e.g. Greenpeace, 2016) and by authoritative legal documents granting relevant rights, as the right to access environmental information, and by academic literature vocal on the topic (e.g. Lee, 2005). The knowledge gap this contribution aims at filling is identified in the scarce understanding of the real potential of these bottom-up haze maps, whose social utility and even legal admissibility is not plain. This discussion contributes to the debate triggered by interest groups, NGOs and local communities on the need for alternative and more transparent ways for tackling the haze in Southeast Asia. In the conclusion, recommendations are formulated on how to address the challenges posed by these alternative mapping methods and release the full potential of these bottom-up produced maps as an invaluable tools for promoting a more accountable governance of the haze risk.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationData visualisation in society
PublisherAmsterdam University Press/WRR
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9789463722902
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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